By: Dottie Tiejun Li
PRIUS Three Model (2012)
I was very excited to see the red Prius quietly zoom up the street and stop in front of our house. I have been eager to drive this yearís Three Model, with its new styling and 51/48 top-of-the-pack mileage. After all, I like a bit of kick in the engine, but Iím concerned enough about the earth to hope Toyota is fine-tuning a car that combines pricing and performance with planet-friendly propulsion.
Walking around the car before stepping in, I was favorably impressed by the metallic ďBarcelona RedĒ color of this specific model, the updated front end, and the more contemporary looking headlight and taillight designs. It looks compact and sporty, but still very much resembles all previous Prius models. You know itís a Prius from a block away. The rooftop retains the familiar bowing upward, as if to allow some extra headroom in the rear seats. The lines are aerodynamic and the glass panels are flush. The literature notes that the distinctive wheel covers are also designed to increase air flow. Settling into what turns out to be a comfortable driverís seat, I ran my hand over the cushions described as ďplant-derived,Ē very eco-friendly, along with similarly recyclable plastic resins used for the some of the door panels. I guess thatís good to know.
The dash has attractive contours and the steering wheel is studded with controls for the Touch Tracer Display so the driver can access fuel-usage and hybrid-operation displays on the recessed LCD information screen. I quickly realized this is not a car you just jump into and hope that all the information screens and electronic communications and entertainment devices can be mastered intuitively. This is a car which requires attention and study. But I was not about to so that. Not for my first drive. I wanted to get this buggy onto the quiet roads of our little town and then take it to the highway. So letís crank up some tunes and blast off.
I said, letís crank up some tunes. Oh dear, is that the best this audio system can do? This flat, metallic and trebly sound? Some reading of the manual, some fiddlingÖand yup, thatís about it. Alright then, weíll just enjoy the driving experience without some bone shaking bass to liven things up. After all, saving the planet is worth sacrificing some of the aural experience.
Driving away from the house, one of the first things I noticed, the first thing everyone always notices, is the relative quiet of the vehicle. With the LCD radiating charts and flowing diagrams and numbers, I guess the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine (matched with an electronically controlled, continuously variable transmission) was running smoothly. Itís rated at 98 horsepower and the total hybrid system horsepower (gasoline engine and electric motor combined) for 2012 is 134 horsepower. The automatic shifting into higher gears seems effortless and soon we were on bigger, faster-moving roads. Now, the entire appeal of the Prius is that it generates power efficiently and without spewing heavy doses of pollutants into the air. The power, by the numbers, is modest, and this hardly has the feel of a sports car or muscle car. Itís not a deal-killer, but you can feel it when the electric motor fills in a bit before the variable transmission starts pumping that extra boost of power after you hit the pedal. If youíre a careful driver, youíll negotiate fast-moving traffic well enough.
You have some choices when it comes to the throttle, with the EV, Eco, and Power buttons offering varying modes of fuel consumption. In EV mode, this Prius runs on electric power alone, assuming speed and miles permit. The Power setting lets the gasoline engine take charge with help from the electric motor. And the The Eco mode, as the name implies, gives the choice to the carís computer to figure out for you the most efficient balance of fuel use and performance. The Power setting was the most fun to drive on the highway, while I let Eco take over while running errands closer to home.
There is a major complaint working against the Prius as a family car, however, and that is the constricted view you get through the rear, hatchback window. The sleek exterior design puts a significant fold in the hatchback that, combined with some tinting, makes it difficult to see much. Living in a child-filled neighborhood, I need all the visibility I can get, and rear-view cameras just are not enough.
Bottom line: the 2012 Prius, Model Three, is efficient and good for the planet. Itís not stellar as a family vehicle or to drive for kicks. But with estimated annual gas pump savings of $1,100, itís a good car for around town trips. Prices start at about $24,000, and this model was listed at 25,565. There is a full package of options allowing considerable upgrading.
At a Glance:
--Hybrid Synergy Drive System
--1.8L DOHC 16V WT-I 4-Cylinder Engine
--15Ē Alloy Wheels w/ Covers, P195/65R15 Tires
--4-Wheel Disc Brakes/Front End Suspension
--Price: $24,000 to $ 30,000 (approximate)
VOLVO C70 2-door convertible (2012)
The contrast between the Prius and this sexy convertible could not be more vivid. While I felt like a good citizen motoring around in the prim and proper Prius, I felt like a bad girl in the C-70. In a good way, of course. With the top down and the 227 horses galloping along with the help of a 2.5-liter inline-5 cylinder plant, this Volvo is just plain fun to drive. Both my seven year old son and my husband always seemed to want to go with me whenever I started to back the car out of the driveway, especially if the top was down.
Ah, the top. That reinforced, retractable convertible top doesnít require any special ability to handle as itís basically a one-button feature. Just one tap, and the roof disappears and stows itself in the area where a trunk would usually be found. Another tap and the roof comes back out of hiding and secures itself nicely in about thirty seconds. It cannot be more convenient, and thatís a lot of this carís appeal.
Thereís also the appearance. The glossy black finish of the Inscription series I drove for a week (much too short a time, I must say) gives the car a sleek and powerful aspect, playful but with the definite bite of adventure. The car leans forward, as if ready to pounce, sloping gently from the rear decklid spoiler to the trademark, black-hued grille up front. Chrome accents and LED tail-lights (and optional xenon headlights) add a distinctly contemporary touch, highlighted by 17-inch high-gloss alloy wheels.
Inside, he bucket seats are form fitting and hug you in ergonomic comfort. The cabin has a distinctly upscale feel with leather, brushed aluminum, and user-friendly controls, including an enhanced climate quality system. The rear seating for two passengers seems to have more legroom than one would expect in such a sporty car. And to the delight of my two boys, the sound system is powerful enough to overcome the roar of the wind and the engine as you cut through the night air, the thumping bass notes providing tactile pleasure.
Now, this is a Volvo, so itís got to be more than just fun. And, to be sure, there is a long list of active and passive safety features we expect from the franchise. From the Rollover Protection System to all-encompassing airbags to whiplash protection and guards to keep you from slipping out of seat-belt harnesses during a collision, itís all there.
This car made us want to drive. In fact, one balmy summer evening, we happened to glimpse the car sitting quietly in the driveway. Something wild called out to us. Within minutes, the three of us had piled into the car, retracted the roof, and were off on an unplanned road trip just for the fun of it. And thatís something we have never done before. We ended up cruising to Washington Harbor, which was in full party mode that night. We drove around and felt like part of the revelry; the fact that the car is a convertible put us right in the midst of the spirited atmosphere. And when we decided to park and get some ice-cream, it only took a matter of seconds to secure the roof and lock up the car. This is an automobile which allows another layer of lifestyle, it is clear.
Of course, going shopping for groceries is another matter. There is no functional trunk space, so the various bags had to be squeezed in on the passenger compartment floors, which was not especially comfortable for either husband or son. And itís probably a challenge to do the routine hauling around of people and things that modern family life requires.
But back to the fun. Volvo doesnít claim that the C70 has the design for true sports car handling or acceleration. But the company has boosted the C70's 227 horsepower, 2.5-liter inline-5 cylinders with technical upgrades which they say has added on our Inscription model an extra 23-horsepower and 37 lb-ft of torque. Whatever. Itís got enough power to be fun, but not too much for a suburban mom to handle, especially with the help of the Electro-Hydraulic Power Assisted Rack & Pinion Steering
Of course, the fun-driving Mom will have to pay for the pleasure, as the C70 Inscription I drove is listed at just over $50,000. It is EPA rated at 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. But, hey, those mpg numbers are just another reason to get that motor runniní and head out on the highway!
At a Glance:
C70 T5 Inscription
2.5-liter turbocharged inline-5
250 horsepower @ 5500 rpm
273 lb-ft of torque @ 1500 to 3000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/28 mpg
The 2012 Volvo C70's Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) ranges from $41,000 to $51,000